All’s Well that Ends (Western) Wall – Jake Henry

Jews have a very strong connection to Israel. One of our names is “The Children of Israel” because one of our Patriarchs, Jacob, changed his name to Israel. And while the founding of the modern State of Israel was unethical in many ways (and continues to operate in unethical ways), many Jewish people see Israel as a country that helped save Jews from antisemitism in Europe and the rest of the world. Jewish people grow up hearing a lot about Israel, which over time can lead to seeing it through rose colored glasses.

On my trip to Israel, one thing I eagerly anticipated was visiting the Western Wall. The Western Wall is the last remaining wall of the second temple that was destroyed—and is considered the holiest site in Judaism. So you can imagine there was anticipation building between me and the other students, so much so that the staff on the trip actually gave us a pep talk, saying that a lot of people are very underwhelmed by the wall because of how much they’ve heard about it growing up. Even with the talk, I was excited. As we entered the plaza, it was so hot, I was separated from my female friends because some Jewish religious spaces are like that, and a guy kept calling me and my group mates “fake Jews” for not wearing certain optional religious items—but even with all that, I was still excited.

We finally got to the wall, past all of the other people. I looked at it, I touched it, and…….. it really was just a wall—a tall, old wall, made of tan bricks, dry rooty vegetation spilling out at random points from the face, cracks filled with scrolls of prayers and wishes written by those who have visited, but still just a wall. I kept waiting and waiting to feel this deep religious experience I had been expecting, but nothing came. Gd didn’t come down from the sky, there was no red sea parting, I didn’t have a vision of The Temple in its former glory. I was expecting to feel this chain of connection to all of Judaism, a sense of purpose and religious clarity, but instead I was just getting sunburned in Jerusalem, feeling oddly lonely and disconnected. But others around me felt differently, as 15 feet away a group of Orthodox Israelis were dancing and praying; I could hear voices all around me filled with emotion and religious purpose. I envied them then, and I envy them now.

The Western Wall is simultaneously mundane and holy, it retains wonder even in the absence of novelty. Up until then, my Jewish Identity was very comfortable to me, but this was only because of my lack of experience in the Jewish world. It was only after this trip that I started to learn more about Judaism, becoming more religious, experiencing different Jewish communities, and doing the work to learn about my religion. I can’t say that I have a rock solid confidence in my identity as a Jew, but with all I’ve learned and done, I’m ready for round two with the wall.

Have you ever fallen from too high of expectations? How do you keep faith in moments of your religion looking so different?

2 thoughts on “All’s Well that Ends (Western) Wall – Jake Henry”

  1. Hello, Jake! Thanks so much for this blog post, it was wonderfully descriptive of your experience. I think you point out something very important – a lot of religious experience is culturally regarded as changing people’s lives, connecting them to the divine through an intense experience, etc.! However, a lot of times, religion is also very mundane, and certain religious objects or sites, as you said, may not elicit a breakthrough or the expected emotional reaction. As you wrote, if one chooses to maintain one’s faith, it’s important to manage these letdowns and use them to reexamine what your faith means to you. How will you work on strengthening your faith if it is experienced in a mundane, simple way? What value does it have in that form? What comfort can it still bring you?

  2. Hi Jake —

    I had the privilege of visiting Jerusalem in 2019. I took a walking tour of the room that the Last Supper took place and the tomb which Jesus was laid to rest. I was so excited to see these places, that I was completely wrapped up in the moment and was so overwhelmed. I’d also love to go back now that I am more prepared with what to expect.

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